Sit Like an Egyptian
The Monday Photo
This is Hartwell’s Egyptian Spring, but it’s not Egyptian. Some think it isn’t even a spring, but water runs through it which seems to feed a horse trough on the other side of the lane, just a little further down the slope.
The official listing describes Egyptian Spring as a seat, but the water enters it via a small channel and leads into a rectangular sump in the front middle of the floor. From there, another shallow channel takes the overflow to the front corner of the spring where it flows off and into a road drain. I think the water then goes into the horse trough across the lane.
You can see the sump and the drain in the photo. Water can be also be heard and sometimes seen a little further down the lane.
The seat is commonly thought to be Egyptian because of the frieze of hieroglyphics across the front, though it’s just made of brick and stone, covered in stucco.
I can’t really translate hieroglyphics (though I tried) but the frieze is said to state that the seat was built in the 13th year of Victoria’s reign. The second cartouche or oval ring seems to hold characters that phonetically spell out “Victoria”, and I think the number 13 is on the far left hand end.
The Greek inscription above is said by some to say “Water is best”, but putting those letters into an online translator produced either “Left with two” or “Left-handed two.
Well, I can’t translate Greek either, but that didn’t seem right. A bit more digging found that the Greek text is a quote from Pindar, a poet in Ancient Greece who lived from around 518 to 438 BC. It actually says: "Greatest however (is) water”.
The Egyptian Seat/Spring was erected in 1850 or 1851, and designed by Joseph Bonomi the Younger. He was one of those Victorian men who were good at many things; a polymath.
Bonomi was an artist, a sculptor, a draughtsman, a museum curator and an Egyptologist. He went to Egypt where he made drawings and watercolours of their pyramids and ancient temples, learning Arabic and wearing local dress. One sketch is labelled “Fragment of a red granite sarcophagus”. It’s drawn to ¼ scale and the hieroglyphics are carefully drawn.
I didn’t think I’d ever mention Egypt or an Ancient Greek poet in a North Bucks Wanderer post, but it’s just another one of the rabbit holes I find myself in when doing research.
If you want to see the seat/spring yourself, it’s about a third of a mile down a narrow lane off the A418 in Hartwell. The lane is signposted “Hartwell House”, and “Lower Hartwell”; bear left after the bridge.
There’s a place to turn round a little further down the lane, which is a cul-de-sac. Other follies are available.
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